Ted: Well, I've returned from four weeks in China to find the Mets much in the same place they were when I left: floundering. A three- or four-game losing streak isn't much different than my experience eating scorpion at the Night Market in Beijing, you close your eyes, bite down and hope it ends quickly. It's a little unpleasant to stomach, but you know that it'll be over soon and you'll be a better person for having been through it.
A prolonged period of waffling like this, though, is a lot more frustrating. I've made no attempt to hide my optimism -- the Mets are still in first place, after all -- but at what point should I stop waiting patiently for the likes of Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado and Aaron Heilman to come around? Sure, Delgado may be aging and Beltran may be hurt (despite what he says) but can I still expect the sluggers that carried the Mets through so much of last season to right the proverbial ships? Or am I -- to paraphrase a Chinese saying that I'm sure sounds a lot more clever in Mandarin -- like a hunter waiting for a rabbit to kill itself by running into a tree? You've been here watching; you tell me.
Mike: The Five Guys burgers you recommended went down much easier than that scorpion, I bet. The consensus from the family is a big thumbs up, mostly for the better-than-boardwalk fries.
The Mets aren't hitting. They've scored more than five runs twice this month and one of those games was a loss by a TD and a field goal in Colorado. They're ninth in the league in runs per game. They're 12th in the league in hitting with runners in scoring position (.250). And they're average in isolated slugging when power was a consensus preseason strength.
At some point, I'm still convinced; Delgado and Beltran will step up and carry the team offensively for a stretch. None of the Mets hitters have exceeded expectations. There's too much dead weight in the lineup with Shawn Green, Paul Lo Duca and Jose Valentin. For those surprised to see Lo Duca here, note that he's at .192 with RISP and is slugging .362 with a .315 on-base percentage. Ruben Gotay should play about everyday now in favor of Valentin, who is where we all thought he'd be last year. And Shawn Green should be out for Moises Alou, but why do I feel it's going to be Lastings Milledge instead?
Ted: I'm with you on Lo Duca. I think any Mets fan who expected a season like last year out of the aging catcher was delusional. He's hitting as I expected he would last year, and his complete lack of power really hurts them when he bats deeper in the order -- as he should be. I'd love to see Ramon Castro get a little more time behind the plate, since he's hit a lot better than Lo Duca this year. I don't think it's going to happen, though.
And like you, I'm sure Milledge will sit when Alou returns. I don't want to belabor the point, as I'm writing a blog entry about it as we speak, but I'd love to see Milledge kept with the big club and playing regularly at least until Endy Chavez returns. Alou will clearly need to be spelled regularly, and Green hasn't done much since the first month of the season, so Lasto would be a nice option for added defensive range and an offensive spark for the lifeless Mets.
My major concern is that the Mets will overpay for bullpen help at the deadline. I know that the bullpen is a bit of a concern and will be until either Heilman or Guillermo Mota gets on track, but I don't think it's bad enough to merit trading away something of value -- specifically Milledge -- for a spare arm. Though Pedro Feliciano and Joe Smith have come down to Earth a bit, they're both still more than effective, and Heilman could be a lot worse. It seems as though Feliciano is finally seeing an expanded role, which I'm happy about, and with Wagner pitching as he has, I don't think the Mets need to be buyers. The much heralded return of Pedro Martinez will likely dispatch Jorge Sosa to the bullpen, and perhaps he could fill the role the Mets hoped Mota would.
Mike:: If they trade Milledge for a MIRP (middle-inning relief pitcher), I'll need to go get medicated for sure. If they merely bench him/send him down in favor of Shawn Green (essentially), I'll try to get through it with conventional anger management and maybe a little primal scream therapy. I can live with Paul Lo Duca over Ramon Castro, even though I dislike it and favor a more even time share. I'm not emotionally invested in Gotay and sort of like "'Stache" (Valentin's nickname on the great BaseballThinkFactory), though much less so on one leg. Playing Milledge now should not even be a close call and isn't even so much about the future, because Milledge's floor is pretty close to Green's ceiling. Am I overreacting?
Willie never met a veteran he didn't like. But I'm not letting Omar off the hook here; he's an enabler. Marlon Anderson is about to join the team? Why? The Mets are going to have four second baseman on the roster? Omar should be forcing Willie to play Gotay by DFA-ing Valentin and not letting Anderson anywhere near Shea. Gotay was a decent prospect once and he's still young. Why can't he be a poor man's Brandon Phillips?
I think Minaya has done a great job with the team, on balance. Look no further than Maine and Perez. But he's been a little too cavalier with high-octane arms like Heath Bell and even Henry Owens (sidelined with a bum shoulder). I don't like trick pitchers in late-inning relief. And, face it, if Heilman doesn't have that change finely tuned, he's toast.